Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
March 2011

Full moon, new moon / moonlight, twilight ... same difference

'Red Riding Hood' is an empty, sterile romantic fantasy - or, in other words, par for the course

Red Riding Hood
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenplay: David Johnson
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Lukas Haas and Julie Christie
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 40 minutes
(out of four)

Where on earth do they find these guys? Is there a factory that makes them? Is there a stockpile hidden away in Hollywood somewhere? Wanted: Caucasian male, mid-20s; boyish looks, perpetually vapid facial expression, utter lack of charm or charisma; in total, an empty visage of make-believe masculinity. Ridiculous haircut not required, but preferred.

That seems to be the going requirement for romantic male leads these days - at least in films made and marketed directly for the most gullible of adolescent girls and, yes, a distressingly high number of twentysomething women.

I have a feeling that anyone who takes these new male prototypes even somewhat seriously (and there are those that do, I assure you) will end up incredibly disappointed by life. In the same way that any guy who genuinely thinks he's going to meet someone just like Megan Fox in Transformers (stripper + mechanic) or Rachael Nichols in Transformers (stripper + scientist) or Isabel Lucas in Transformers 2 (stripper + robot) is going to be disappointed by life.

But that's what we get in movies like Red Riding Hood - lifeless excuses for leading men that represent romantic fantasy at its most tepid and shallow. First we had that Twilight crap, with Robert Pattinson in all his cold vacancy, and Taylor Lautner in . . . well, whatever it was he was supposed to be.

And now this. Not coincidentally, Red Riding Hood was helmed by the director of the first Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke. And it seems to be the same basic formula - two vapid guys competing for the affections of our heroine. There's the dark and virile "bad boy," Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), with whom Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) has been enamored since childhood; and the kind and virtuous Henry (Max Irons).

I use those adjectives not because of anything related to the two actors' performances, but because that's what I imagine is said about the two characters in the press materials - what they're supposed to be like. The actors' interpretations of such characteristics are as follows: Perpetual scowl, hair gel = dark and virile. Mopey = kind and virtuous.

Hardwicke seems to have a tendency for finding lead actresses who are far too good for the material. That was the case with Kristen Stewart, a talented actress who by the end of next year will have wasted five movies' worth of that talent on drivel. And now Seyfried, who has proven herself much better than this. As for this role, what more could she do with it? She plays it as well as it could possibly be played. In fact, she is solely responsible for the rare moments that work on any sensual level.

Valerie is the prize of the village. Everyone wants her - Peter, Henry, and even the werewolf that has terrorized the townspeople for decades. The sexual underpinnings of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story are at least acknowledged, so I'll give the film credit for that - though the way that element is handled is far too safe to be even the least bit carnal.

But rather than just focusing on the teen-rotic fantasy, Red Riding Hood plays more like an oddball whodunit. Hardwicke and writer David Johnson are more interested in baiting the audience with hints about the wolf's true (human) identity. The film spends so much time and effort trying to nudge us this way and that, I'd almost give it credit for being comedic. If, that is, its tone weren't so self-serious.

Aside from its inescapable childishness, the movie is hampered by a general confusion about its own dramatic conflicts. The script sets up a timeworn scenario in which the damsel is in love with the poor boy but betrothed to the rich one. And yet, from the look of things, pretty much everyone in this town lives in a near-identical log cabin and has the same resources and lifestyle as everyone else. From what we can tell, there's not exactly a massive wage gap in play here.

But the cliche scenario persists, even when every visual cue we get should have us questioning it. But of course, what could I expect? With a film this clumsily made, its makers clearly never took the time to question much of anything at all.

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